The college football season opened last week and there are a number of changes from last year for the most popular collegiate sport. The most talked about change is The College Football Playoff, a Final Four style postseason format which has replaced the controversial BCS, where the two “best” teams in the land as voted by polls and computer rankings faced off for the national championship.
But don’t count on the new format eliminating controversy. Selection of the four playoff participants will be determined by a 13-person committee, fraught with the same human biases and subject to the same intense politicking that pollsters and fans are all too familiar with. Instead of complaints from the second and third place teams, which were du rigueur under the previous system, be prepared for grousing from the fifth and sixth place teams.
The new playoff format isn’t likely to be the only controversial change to the new season. In an effort to chase additional revenue to fuel their seemingly insatiable appetite for higher expenditures, more colleges will begin selling alcoholic beverages at football games this fall. Chalk this one up to inevitable.
Historically, most colleges have resisted the temptation to sell beer and wine at athletic events for reasons including culture, tradition, religion, philosophy and fear of backlash should an incident occur that was fueled by excessive alcohol consumption. Contrary to the majority, a number of schools have sold alcohol for years, most of them, such as Louisville, Houston, Memphis and Tulane, located in large, liberal, urban areas. How can anyone in New Orleans, for example, criticize Tulane for making money from alcohol sales given the debauchery for which the city’s renowned Bourbon Street is so famous?
But times are changing. West Virginia University, located in conservative Morgantown where the student population exceeds the local populace, began serving alcohol at football games in 2011. It made nearly $520,000 from beer and wine sales in its first season, according to an AP report. While that won’t cover the $2.7 million the school will pay football coach Dana Holgorsen this year, it’s not chump change either.
Another rural school, Kansas State University located in Manhattan, is one of 21 schools who own and operate their own stadium that sold alcoholic beverages in general seating areas prior to this year. This year North Texas, Troy and a number of other schools that previously limited alcohol sales to suite levels will be among a group of schools that will join them.
The additional revenue that can be generated from selling alcoholic beverages has motivated schools to test the waters. Beginning in 2012, the University of Minnesota sold beer and wine at TCF Bank Stadium as part of a two-year pilot program. Last season the Golden Gophers reported profits of $181,678. And it’s not just football fans that can enjoy an adult beverage at their favorite collegiate sporting event. The University of Arizona recently implemented beer sales at home baseball games, although games are played in a former Minor League venue off-campus. And SMU began selling alcohol at basketball games last year.
Beyond the money, there may be additional benefits to selling alcoholic beverages in campus athletic facilities. West Virginia claims it had fewer incidents of rowdy fan behavior related to binge drinking outside the stadium prior to games. With beer available inside, apparently a number of fans no longer felt the need to guzzle multiple beverages prior to approaching the entry gate.
The opportunity to enjoy a beer while watching a game in person may also increase student attendance at football games. According to a Wall Street Journal survey student attendance at some 80 colleges that provided figures was down an average of 7.1% between 2009 and 2013. Of course most students aren’t of legal age, a matter of concern to both schools that sell alcohol and those that don’t. And for underage students as well as fans of legal age watching their team from home or on a mobile device in tailgate areas adjacent to stadiums allows them to imbibe for less than it costs to attend a game and purchase their drinks at stadium prices.
The sale of alcohol on campus will remain controversial. But one thing is certain: All schools will find the additional revenue potential difficult to resist.